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The Value of Face-to-Face Marketing in a Virtual Age

An MPI survey found 40 percent of prospects converted to new customers through face-to-face meetings.

By Rob Murphy, Chief Marketing Officer, MC2

The popularity of communicating virtually—whether through e-mail, instant messaging, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media channels—has had a significant impact on the speed at which information can be obtained.

It also has led some marketers to question the role face-to-face communications can play in building a brand. However, despite the recession and companies trimming budgets, the need for face-to-face interaction has never been more important. According to a report from Meeting Professionals International (MPI), 40 percent of prospects converted to new customers through face-to-face meetings, while 28 percent of current business would be lost without face-to-face meetings (http://www.mpiweb.org/Libraries/NTA-Reports/Meetings_Deliver.pdf).

The reality is there’s room for both face-to-face and virtual tactics in any company’s communications strategy. Here are some benefits of both approaches, plus an example of how they can be combined to maximize return on investment.

Making the Case for Face-to-Face

Whether considering a trade show, private event, or a mobile tour, face-to-face interactions provide some significant business benefits.

At its core, face-to-face engagement creates a personal connection and builds trust between a company and its target audience. A warm handshake, engaging conversation and getting to know customers and prospects on an individual level can play an important role in forming stronger, more meaningful and profitable business relationships.

Several research studies support this point. For example, in a 2009 EventView study of senior executives in sales and marketing, 62 percent chose event marketing as the discipline that best accelerates and deepens relationships.

Face-to-face meetings are also more conducive to achieving certain business objectives than virtual interaction. According to a Forbes Insights survey of 760 business executives conducted in 2009, face-to-face meetings were preferred in cases where the decision-making process is fluid, requiring the give-and-take typically needed during complex decisions and sales. Among the business attributes and outcomes, survey respondents indicated that face-to-face interaction was most critical for persuasion (91 percent), decision-making (82 percent), and candor (78 percent).

Finally, in-person interaction fosters engagement. How many of us have been on a conference call or viewing a Webinar while also checking e-mail or signing off on paperwork? Increased workloads and pared-down staffs make multi-tasking commonplace in the business world, which, in turn, makes it challenging to ensure that virtual communications are driving home key messaging and will deliver desired results.

The Virtues of Virtual

With all that being said, there is still a place in a company’s sales and marketing strategy for virtual interaction. The secret lies in knowing when tactics such as Webinars, virtual events, and social networking have the most value. Disseminating data, maintaining existing relationships, and connecting a global audience, even at the last minute, are just a few of the strategic ways virtual communication can be leveraged.

The most common reason marketers choose virtual engagement is to save time and money. Set-up costs for a Webinar can be a fraction of the investment needed for a face-to-face meeting. Travel expenses, another significant line item for any face-to-face meeting, also become a non-issue.

The flexibility of virtual engagement is another key benefit. Location and timing become easier to negotiate, and speeches, seminars, and presentations can be archived for later viewing. An added benefit to archiving virtual events and making them easily accessible online is enhanced search engine visibility, creating a valuable extension of any company’s digital marketing strategy.

Smart Marketers Choose Both

Now that you’re sold on the benefits of both face-to-face and virtual strategies, here’s the good news: You don’t have to exclusively use one over the other. Savvy marketers are building integrated communications plans that marry the benefits of both approaches.

Let’s look at how this could work in practice. We’ll examine how adding virtual elements can measurably enhance and extend results from a trade show, one of the most common face-to-face marketing strategies companies employ. This is based largely on the fact that trade shows are a cost-effective way to generate leads and close new business and drive brand awareness.

Pre-Show

Pre-show marketing plays an essential role in the success of any trade show program as it helps drive booth traffic and generate quality leads. Virtual communication is a natural fit here, as it lets companies connect with existing customers while also exposing them to prospective customers in a cost-effective manner. For example:

  • Promote the event on your Website and in online advertising.
  • Use direct e-mail to alert customers and prospects about your presence at a show and set appointments in advance.
  • Seek out forums and groups on LinkedIn and participate in the discussion about the show and industry in general. Twitter offers similar opportunities. Be sure to use relevant hashtags so your tweets become part of the thread.

On-Site

While most communication at trade shows will be of the face-to-face variety, there are some interactive tools that can be leveraged to extend the experience virtually. For example:

  • Share news with attendees—and those who couldn’t be there—using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media.
  • Publish blog posts each night to recap the day’s events and share interesting observations from the show floor.
  • Stream a press conference that will announce important news on your Website.

Post-Show

Virtual communication tools are ideal for all post-event follow-up. They also provide an opportunity to keep customers and prospects engaged long after the show doors have closed.

  • Add show photos to your Website or Flickr account, and don’t forget to tag.
  • Post a virtual demonstration of new products launched at the show on a special page of your Website. Share the URL with customers and prospects you weren’t able to connect with on-site.
  • Secure the final attendee database from show management and use direct e-mail to reach qualified prospects you did not meet at the show.

The Last Word

Clearly, there are specific benefits to both face-to-face marketing and virtual communication. Face-to-face interaction will help form the strong bonds that lead to long-lasting business relationships, while virtual communication will keep dialogue going with prospects and customers fresh and lively year-round.

Before embarking on any marketing program, take the time to carefully evaluate underlying business objectives, outline clear goals and metrics, and proceed with the strategy that will help you get the job done. We bet it will involve some quality face time, along with digital communication.

For more information on the benefits of face-to-face marketing and virtual events, download MC2’s newest white paper, “Is Face-to-Face Marketing Old School?” at: http://www.mc-2.com/resourcecenter.html.

Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2,a leader in the exhibit and event marketing industry. Located in the Chestnut Ridge, NY, corporate headquarters of MC2, Murphy directs all marketing efforts for the company, including the Exhibitor FastTrak seminar program, and new sales initiatives. For more information, visit www.mc-2.comor check out the new blog, MC2Talks, at http://MC2Talks.mc-2.com/. Follow MC2 on Twitter @MC2_Exhibitsand @MC2_FastTrakand fan MC2 on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MC2Exhibits.